We spent our week in the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the four great deserts in North America (the others are Sonoran Desert, Mohave Desert and Great Basin Desert). While much of our time was devoted to exploring Carlsbad Caverns and the Guadalupe Mountains, the surrounding landscape provided spectacular beauty. Numerous plants and animals call this high desert home and manage to survive despite little rainfall and extreme temperatures. The desert environment supports an array of plant life, including an array of agave, yucca, and sotol — all with waxy leaves and spines that make them drought- and animal-resistant.
Mescal, pictured here, grows in abundance, particularly in McKittrick Canyon. It was a major staple in both the diet and culture of the Apaches who lived in this rugged environment. The plant provided fiber for ropes, blankets, and sandals, and agave hearts were roasted in large cooking pits and eaten or made into cakes for later consumption. In fact, when Spanish settlers arrived in the 1500s, they named the Apaches who lived here Mescalero, a name that means mescal-maker. Mescalero Apaches still return to this area annually to harvest agaves for ceremonial purposes.
Although the Mescalero survived by hunting mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, we saw very little evidence of animal life. Desert animals are often difficult to view since many of them are nocturnal. They adapt to the hot, dry environment by coming out after dark, when temperatures are much cooler and conditions are not quite so dry.
Our final day in the desert was spent packing up and moving out. An afternoon drive brought us to Midland, Texas, where we overnighted at the Midland RV Campground. Midland was so-named because it was the midway point between Fort Worth and El Paso, and because the name Midway had already been taken. Initially, it was a vital center for shipping cattle, but in 1923, everything changed when oil began flowing from West Texas, making Midland an administrative hub for the burgeoning exploration, drilling and refining operations. Even today, after nearly a century of drilling, pumping and refining oil, the oil field beneath Midland is thought to be the third largest in the U.S.
Throughout our desert adventure, we learned three things worth sharing:
- There will always be fellow campers who fail to pick up after their dogs, so beware.
- The National Parks Service is missing a golden opportunity to partner with communications companies to develop a cellular service infrastructure — and cell towers can be disguised in many ways so as not to disrupt the landscape.
- Some bird calls can be quite loud — we’re talking to you, crows!